In the aftermath of the horror that unfolded in a Connecticut elementary school, pundits, politicians and pastors have put forth a variety of hypotheses about where God may or may not have been and why or why not he may have been there.
The language that we’ve “removed God” or “are removing God” from any place is quite comical, and I’m convinced God finds it humorous as well. God existed long before the United States of America was even thought of, and he’ll be around long after. For that matter, he’s actually the creator of everything. So to suggest we can tell God to take a back seat and to proclaim that “God showed up”, is not only theologically inaccurate; it embarrassingly implies that we ourselves are capable of controlling God. We essentially make ourselves into a deity.
If our Christian faith and identity is validated by pithy, flimsy symbols and rituals that we are so easily offended by those who wish to have them removed; our true religious identity is nothing more than a cheap, shallow and thin belief system with no root and no substance. And, dare I say, if we hold these expressions in such high esteem, we’re teetering on idol worship.
Now I get that the cross, a nativity scene and having “God” in our pledges are all important and meaningful things, however, let’s look at this another way. I’ve been to the beautiful Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and was in awe at not only the size and scale of the monument, but the fact that this 16th President was so revered he was bestowed his own massive statue! If tomorrow someone wants to have this or any other symbol taken down, this doesn’t change the fact that Abraham Lincoln existed. He still gave the Gettysburg Address. He still was instrumental in the freeing of slaves. He was still assassinated in Ford Theater.
Same with God. No matter what symbol, saying or declaration is withdrawn from society; God still was, is and always will be the Creator. God cannot be legislated in or out of the hearts of man. God cannot and will not be moved or removed. God moves us. He moves in us and through us. Perhaps the problem isn’t that God is or is not being interjected into our government, culture and wider life; perhaps the problem is that we humans feel we have the power and capability to tell him where he should and shouldn’t be.
If we continually petition to not have a monument removed, if we are bent out of shape that a nativity scene isn’t displayed, or we feel there is a war on Christmas, our Christian identity is steeped and dependent in these inanimate objects rather than a fully human, risen Christ. We’re fighting the wrongs fights. Let’s not add to tragedies like this by speaking on behalf of God without first examining the implications.
I often wonder what Christians in other parts of the world think of our “God problems.” Would they laugh if we told them that we are up in arms that people say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”? Would they scoff at the idea that we’re bent out of shape that religious leaders can’t make political candidate endorsements from the pulpit without violating tax exempt status while they long for nothing more than to gather for church without fear of death?
What about the very first Christians? How trivial would they think our “culture war on Christianity” is when they were simply trying to avoid being cast to the lions? How envious would they be of the religious freedoms we have when they were forced to literally worship and pray underground?
So while there are sure to be more tragedies and heartaches like the one so many are experiencing right now, we can be sure of one thing: God is and always will be with us. In the midst of the crisis. In the aftermath and on into the future. No matter what amount of moving or removing we attempt, God is relentless in his pursuit of us. We can choose to turn our backs on him. That is the consequence of free will through love. But if we think God punishes innocent humans for our choice to “remove him” we couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s there, waiting with open arms for a time that may or may not come that we act out the parable of the prodigal son.